Kilauea and Mauna Loa are both currently erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Kilauea, left, and Mauna Loa are both currently erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island. (Photo: Courtesy National Park Service/Joyce Ibadan)

Mauna Loa Is Erupting in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Should You Still Go?

Here’s what you need to know before traveling to Hawaii’s Big Island if you’re planning on visiting the park and viewing the spectacle

Mauna Loa has been erupting on the Big Island since Sunday.

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The eruption of 13,679-foot Mauna Loa, the world’s largest most active volcano, began late Sunday night on the Big Island, joining 4,009-foot Kilauea, which has been erupting for a year. What does this mean for visitors and hikers heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

The viewing has been “spectacular,” says Jessica Ferracane, the park’s public-affairs specialist, who admired the glow from Kilauea this morning as well as the vigorous activity from one of four fissures currently open on Mauna Loa. “This is a rare time—two simultaneous eruptions. And this is a sacred event—Pele is coming to life.”

Hawaii County mayor Mitch Roth echoed those sentiments and encouraged tourism. “This is a great time to come visit. You’re seeing one of the most unbelievable sights ever.” He noted that the eruption of Mauna Loa was visible from Hilo, Kona, and numerous other points around the island, and he saw many residents viewing the lava flow from Inouye Highway and Gilbert Kahele Recreation Area (Mauna Kea State Recreation Area) on Saddle Road, about 35 miles west of Hilo.

December and January are high travel season for the island, and the national park, which is open 24 hours, can see as many as 8,000 visitors a day during this period. Already crowds have begun to flock to the park in the excitement to see the dual eruptions. Ferracane recommended the viewpoints of Kupinai Pali (also known as Waldron Ledge), which is an easy half-mile walk from the Kilauea Visitor Center, where there’s parking, as well as from behind Volcano House. The park is advising visitors to come before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. to reduce traffic.

While the summit of Mauna Loa is closed, an eruption that began within its crater has since migrated to the northeast rift zone, on the slopes outside of park boundaries, where fissures are spewing lava as high as 200 feet.

“The parts of the park that 95 percent of visitors come to see—the visitor center and trails—are still open and have been impacted very little,” says Ferracane, who noted that only a fraction of the popular 354,461-acre destination had closed as as a result of the volcano.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s scientists continue to monitor conditions, Ferracane says. Currently, lava flow has descended more than five miles downslope and is moving at less than a mile per hour, according to Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Of the four fissures, number three has been the most active. The national park is also staying in contact with the Hawaii County Civil Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for updates.

A previous ash advisory by the National Weather Service has been canceled, and the park continues to monitor air quality for higher levels of sulfur, ash and vog (volcanic smog), although safe levels are currently being reported, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. This site has air-quality updates specific to the park and links to other island health advisories.

In terms of park access, backcountry hikers have been the most affected by the eruption and the recent uptick in seismic activity, including earthquakes, over the fall. The 11.5-mile Mauna Loa Road was closed at the access gate at Kipukapuaulu (also known as Bird Park) on Monday due to safety concerns. This parking area is normally the trailhead for a 1.2-mile loop that passes through one of the island’s most biologically diverse areas and recent lava flows. It is also the start of the Mauna Loa Trail, which heads to the summit, and the Mauna Loa Lookout, located at 6,667 feet.

The greater Mauna Loa backcountry and its high-elevation cabins have been off-limits to visitors since early October, when the volcano began showing signs of elevated seismic activity. “We are not issuing any backcountry permits for Mauna Loa, but we are still issuing them for coastal backcountry areas,” Ferracane says.

No nearby local communities are expected to be affected at this time and no evacuations have been ordered, but local residents have been told to prepare to leave if conditions shift. Some flights to Hilo airport were canceled yesterday but flights in and out of both Hilo and Kona airports have resumed service, and air traffic is open and fine, says Mayor Roth.

Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, and at that time lava flows came within four miles of the city of Hilo. That eruption lasted for 22 days. Kilauea began erupting in September of 2021, but activity has been limited to the Halemaumau crater. Officials said that it’s still too early to say which direction the Mauna Loa flow will take, because things are unstable and unpredictable.

Conditions can change rapidly during an eruption, however. For updated information, go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website for status updates.

Lead Photo: Courtesy National Park Service/Joyce Ibadan